Harlan Ellison’s “The City on the Edge of Forever”

Star Trek Harlan Ellison’s The City on the Edge of Forever: The Original Teleplay is a graphic novel based on Harlan Ellison’s original teleplay for the Star Trek (TOS) episode “The City on the Edge of Forever.” The adaptation was done by Scott Tipton and David Tipton and the art by J. K. Woodward. I read it because I was curious. I was curious because the episode won a Hugo award for Ellison, but he was not happy about it. As a matter of fact, he was very bitter about the changes Gene Roddenberry and his production staff had made to Ellison’s script. So I read it to see if it was, in fact, better than the show which actually aired.

First, let me say that the book was very well done – the art is amazing and the story is easy to follow. Now let’s talk about the differences. First, it wasn’t McCoy who transported to the planet’s surface. It was a drug dealer in danger of being caught. The Guardian is not a big empty circle, but rather a group of men who converse for a while with Kirk and Spock. Then, when history is changed, the Enterprise doesn’t disappear, but is in the hands of a some very nasty people.

Other changes include a lot more interaction with people of the Great Depression, and the fact that Kirk and Spock don’t work for Edith Keeler. (Kirk, of course, does fall in love with her.) There also was an unnecessary linkage to a brooch Edith wore as being the focal point of the change and the unnecessary use of a tramp selling apples to create pathos.

After reading this book, I can see why the producers sought to streamline it and remove a lot of unnecessary characters and extras (perhaps for economic reasons.) One thing I really didn’t like in Ellison’s version is that the dialog of Kirk and Spock did not ring true, and they often said things I would not expect them to say at all.

So, I do prefer the version that aired, though I admit I could be biased from watching it over and over again all these years. However, it’s plain that the changes made the episode more “Star Trek.” Having McCoy being the one to change the past raised the stakes and created more pathos at the end when Kirk prevents him from saving Edith Keeler, certainly more pathos than the death of a stranger

My recommendation? If you like graphic novels, take a look. Otherwise, go to Netflix and watch the episode again.